The CommUniTI: Using A Community Of Practice To Support And Enhance The First Year Experience

Year: 2015

Author: Christie, Michael, Penn-Edwards, Sorrel, Donnison, Sharn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Currently Australian policy prioritises widening participation and access to higher education for previously marginalised cohorts of individuals such as regional and remote and low SES individuals (Read, King, & Whiteford, 2015). This paper reports on a project that is specifically aimed at supporting students in their first year in higher education at a small regional campus of an Australian university situated in a region where educational levels and qualifications are significantly lower when compared to the rest of the state; 50% of its residents are in the most disadvantaged socio-economic sector and unemployment rate is 8.1% (Queensland Treasury and Trade, 2014). The project employs a fourth generation approach (Penn-Edwards & Donnison, 2014) to student support and transition which is underpinned by concepts of responsiveness (linking with the student’s social and civic communities - family and friends, school, local community), respectfulness (of the knowledge and social and cultural capital that students bring with them) and transparency. It recognises and values the strategic and important role that the student’s social and cultural capital plays in their successful transition to higher education and engagement in learning. The fourth generation approach employs a Community of Practice (CoP) methodology. This paper reports on the process of establishing and actioning a CoP charged with collaboratively designing and developing transition and engagement strategies for first year students at Gympie campus of the University of the Sunshine Coast. Identification of community members for the CoP was achieved through using Social Network Methodology; mapping current first year students’ community supporters and then connecting to their networks of support. This particular CoP is referred to as The CommUniTI (Community-University Team Initiative). This project is distinguished by purposively seeking those members of the local community who have had an integral role in supporting a student’s transition into higher education but who are usually silenced in such institution-community relationships. The CommUniTI is specific to the regional campus and its local community, however the intention of this project is to not only develop strategies to assist first year students but to also evaluate the use of such a CoP as a first year transition model of practice which can be extended to other programs, campuses, and institutions.